For most of the past decade and a half, I’ve been writing about sports.
I haven’t been playing sports, however. I had long since decided that my place was in a press box or with a clipboard in hand and talking to those with far more athletic talent than I ever dreamed of having.
But I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to get back out on the field myself.
I played indoor soccer for six years while growing up in Moab. There was a winter league that made use of the local rodeo arena with the dirt floor compacted. It wasn’t anything special — ever get board-checked into an exposed metal bucking chute gate? — but it was something I really enjoyed despite never quite having what it took to play for the high school squad the next spring.
After my senior year of high school, I hung up my cleats and shin guards, thinking I had played my last game. That was, until a couple months ago.
I had seen advertisements for various indoor soccer facilities along the Wasatch Front while driving around Salt Lake Valley. After doing some research, I discovered there were several recreational-level coed leagues that I could join. While I didn’t have a team of my own, there were likely to be open roster spots on other teams — so I reached out.
Last Thursday, I got the email I’d been waiting for. There was a team that needed another player. Granted, it was a week earlier than I had expected, and the team I was joining had a doubleheader that night, but after a 14-year wait, my soccer career was ready to resume.
As I stepped onto the field at Utah Indoor Soccer in Woods Cross for the first time last Thursday, it was quickly apparent that there was a considerable amount of rust to be shaken off.
I took to the field wearing far more protective gear than I used to, thanks mainly to old age. There was the ankle brace that kept my left ankle from blowing up like a balloon, and the bulky knee brace protecting a lingering sprained MCL. New cleats needed to be broken in and various muscles that hadn’t been used in years needed to be stretched out.
My brain wanted my body to do things that it couldn’t quite do anymore. As my timing continued to be just a bit off and I couldn’t quite finish several goal-scoring opportunities, I lamented how much my already-limited athletic ability had managed to diminish even further. Given the fact that there is no offside rule in indoor soccer, I’d never scored a goal from more than about three feet away. Now, I couldn’t finish from anywhere.
In the back of my mind, I could almost hear Tooele High soccer coach Stephen Duggan yelling, “You’re too slow! You’re second to every ball!” as he does when his own team’s effort isn’t quite up to snuff. I’m not sure Duggan or any other soccer coach — not even U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann — could help me at this point.
And then there’s the endurance factor. I could play seemingly forever as a 17-year-old high school senior. Fourteen and a half years gone by, an additional 50 pounds, a bad ankle and a bad knee certainly made it a challenge to play two 50-minute games. I felt lucky that I got through 30 minutes of either of them.
You know what, though? I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Sure, I was sore. Sure, I could scarcely catch my breath after that second game. Sure, my red headband was soaked clear through with sweat.
But there was a sense of accomplishment in having made it back on the field. And even though I’d just walked in half an hour before my first game, there was already a sense of camaraderie with my new teammates.
There are five Thursday nights left in the season, and I plan on playing as much as I can beyond that. It fuels my competitive fire and it’s a good way to burn off some excess energy — not to mention excess calories.
So I’ll keep playing. Even if I am too slow and second (or third, or more likely fourth) to every ball.